The COVID Diaries: Service provider 5

The following interview is with an Australian-based service provider to the debt capital markets. It was conducted on 20 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

We are taking things slowly and getting a lot of feedback from people to make sure we consider everything. The last thing we want is for someone to get sick when we go back because then everyone will have to be out of the office again. As much as we need to be prepared to make quick decisions and move swiftly, we also want to be in control.

There is no rush, but plans are being put in place and we are organising ourselves towards this point. I think it will probably be July before we return to the office, though.

Frankly, we are not concerned about this. We left all our offices around the country in a hurry, basically overnight, and got to work. There have not been too many complaints about technology or anything else. It has been smooth, all things considered.

It seems that everyone got over the initial shock of working from home very quickly.

Yes, that’s right. We have a very small number of people that are dependent on the systems available in the office and they have been going in. Apart from this, everything has worked well.

It has been a very good test. Everyone has disaster recovery plans, but you never think you will need to use them. When things go wrong for a couple of hours it usually seems like a disaster, but here we are nearly three months down the track and everything has gone well.

“The other factor of working from home is that it can be relentless. A lot of people are telling me they get up in the morning, go straight into work and then at the end of the day there is a massive increase in emails coming after 5pm.”

How do you think things will be different when we get back to normal? What changes can you see to work practices, social changes and the economy?

Whether things ever are ‘normal’ again is up for debate. I think even defining what is normal now is a very difficult task. There is no question that there will be a complete reset on use of office space. Not only is there likely to be fewer people using them but the design of offices will need to change in case something like this happens again.

To comply with social distancing, a lot of offices will be going back with people rotating one week in the office and one week out so half the number of people will be using the office. This will change demand for office space immeasurably.

There will be a lot more working from home, either on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. For the past 5-6 years, we have had a very strong focus on flexibility with employees and this will be enhanced and magnified now. People will have different needs.

Every day I am calling a couple of people just to see how they are going, and I have been doing this for the past three months. Not for any particular reason, just to see how everyone is responding as things change. There are two camps: those that have embraced the situation and want to work from home more permanently and those that do not – who, for one reason or another, miss being around other people and want to be back in the office environment.

Do you get a sense that connectivity and greater concern for colleagues’ wellness is something a lot of people will take away from this?

I do hope so. I have extended this to clients and other people I have dealt with over the years. I still find a lot of the time when I ring them, the first reaction is ‘what do you want?’ But then we have a chat and they think it is nice because the other factor of working from home is that it can be relentless. A lot of people are telling me they get up in the morning, go straight into work and then at the end of the day there is a massive increase in emails coming after 5pm.

The lines between work and home are becoming blurred which is difficult for a lot of people to deal with. We need some reality around this – it cannot be maintained forever. I think this has been part of the experiment of the last three months. People have worked out ways to work that work for them. Going forward I think there will be a lot more thought from people on what exactly is best for them.

Are you more or less optimistic about the crisis than you were during the early acceleration period of moving to home working and adding social distancing measures?

You are asking the wrong person because I am always optimistic. I look at it as if we have just taken three months out of the history of the world.

What are you most looking forward to as restrictions are eased in the coming weeks and months?

I am excited just to get out of town. With the bushfires over summer, the Christmas holidays had to be spent at home and now this has happened. I get the sense a lot people just want to feel free again because we haven’t for a while now.

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